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Community engagement for counterterrorism: lessons from the United Kingdom

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This article explores the development of community engagement within the UK's strategy to tackle international terrorism linked to and inspired by Al-Qaeda, commonly known as CONTEST. It focuses mostly on the ‘Prevent’ strand of the strategy which seeks to prevent radicalization towards violence, reduce tacit support for violence, and increase the resilience of communities to tackle radicalization and extremist messages themselves. Community engagement for counterterrorism also relates to certain aspects of the ‘Pursue’ strand of CONTEST, and these are highlighted. The article outlines the case for a community-based approach to counterterrorism and outlines a number of the key developments in its emergence from 2005 onwards. It analyses the performance of this aspect of the counterterrorism strategy, pointing to a number of shortcomings in relation to the establishment of partnerships, the integration of the approach, capacity shortfalls at the local level, and the wider challenges of a hostile political and media environment. Written as the new UK coalition government announces a review of the ‘Prevent’ strategy, it offers a number of recommendations for the future direction of this area of policy. It calls for an overhaul in working styles, a focus on people rather than projects, and the need to draw a much clearer line between downstream and targeted ‘Prevent’ work and the broader and longer-term community development work, with the latter encapsulated within the government's Big Society Programme and aimed at all fragile communities, not just Muslims.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Researcher and analyst specializing in security, with a particular focus on radicalization, counterterrorism and community conflict.

Publication date: July 1, 2010

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